The Pharaoh Who Was Called Akhenaten
A research paper submitted to Mr. Touma in partial fulfillment of the requirements for World Cultures
Akhenaten will always be remembered as a great heretic ruler, who uprooted traditional Egyptian religions, and conjured a monotheistic religion that is very close in nature to Christianity and Judaism. His political power was not his strong point, but with the creation of the religion, and the vast change in art forms, Akhenaten will never be forgotten.
Amenhotep IV, the name Akhenaten was born with, was the son of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Amenhotep III’s second wife Tiye (Vansten 6).
Amenhotep III was the great-grandson of the famous conquer Thutmose III (Editora, “Part I” 1), who had gained enormous amounts of land and respect from North Africa and the Middle East, and because he was, the glory that his great-grandfather produced, was laid onto him (Redford 34). Therefore, his role in Egypt was somewhat diminished because he accomplished no great victories or wars, but he did command the power of the people, and made them believe that he was the Sun King (Redford 34).
However, one of his most significant ideas was the introduction of co-regency, (Aldred 178) which forever changed the way that Pharaohs would rule.
Amenhotep III first marriage was slightly uncommon in traditional beliefs. Normally, a pharaoh would not be allowed to marry a commoner, but that is exactly what Amenhotep III did, he married Tiye (Editora, “Part 1” 1), a girl from the Middle Egypt whose father was a foreigner named Yuya (Redford 36). Tiye was “the Great King’s Wife…” until one of their daughters, Sat-amun, was elevated higher then she was (Redford 36). During this marriage, Amenhotep III and Tiye produced two boys and six girls (Redford 36). Amenhotep IV was the second of the boys, and was born c. 1385 BC (Redford 36)
Aminadab, the Hebrew equal to Amenhotep, lived and was educated in the eastern delta region, where Egyptian priests of Ra taught him about Amun, and the other important deities such as Aten (Vansten 6). After he was educated in the eastern delta region, he went to live in Thebes for his teenage years (Redford 24-25). Not much is known about his teenage or adolescent years, but many scholars believe that during his stay in Thebes, he became involved with a Ra cult, that worshiped the god Amun. Many believe this is where Amenhotep IV began to believe in the iconology such as the sun disk (Redford 170). During this time frame, circa 1368 BC, Amenhotep III became seriously ill, and could not continue governing Egypt without help (Vansten 6). Therefor, Amenhotep IV, who was the only male still in the direct hereditary line, sense his older brother was dead, was pronounced to marry Nefertiti, who was the daughter of Ay and Tey (Redford 222). Nefertiti was a niece of Tiye and Ay was a close friend of Amenhotep III, so it would easily come that Nefertiti and Amenhotep IV should rule as a co-regent until the death of Amenhotep III, so that the “power could be buttressed” (Aldred 170). There is some speculation during the co-regency, as to whether Nefertiti held a higher position then Amenhotep IV, but it is known that when Amenhotep III died, Amenhotep IV took over as Pharaoh, with Nefertiti being his chief queen (Aldred 178).
After taking control of the throne in 1346, Amenhotep IV transferred the city of rule from Thebes to a new city called Armana (Akhen-taten)(Giuliano 2). Supposedly, Armana was the only spot in Egypt where the “old” religion had not tainted it (Hawkins “Who…” 1), and where the natural surroundings outlined the city with a sun-disk-like design (Aldred 269). It took him a record four years to bring the entire capital cabinet, statues, and citizen population from the old city to the new (Ross 3). Once Amenhotep IV had settled into his new city, he changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, in recognition of the sun god Aten in 1344 BC (Hawkins “Akhenaten’s Life” 2). Thus began the deconstruction period for ancient Egyptian polytheistic religions.
After Akhenaten renounced the former religion, he concentrated his monotheistic belief around the sun god Aten (Aldred 262). During the beginning reign of Akhenaten, presumably during the building of Armana (1st-5th year of reign), Akhenaten started to destroy previous records of the multi-deity religion (Aldred 263). His religious foundation is strikingly similar to the foundations of today’s great monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Judaism (Redford 173). One of the debated reasons for Akhenaten’s sudden transfer of religions is because of the general notion that Amun priests were gaining too much power, and that he wanted absolute power over everything (Hawkins “Who…” 1). Beginning in Amun, Ra, and Re temples, Akhenaten defaced sculptures, busts, and hieroglyphic recordings (Aldred 263). The Ra and Re cults especially, did not show affability towards the pharaoh’s ideas (Aldred 264). These internal struggles between religions broke open a dominant retraction in the land that Egypt had gained in the beginning of the 18th dynasty (Redford 191). The amount of land conceived to the surrounding countries furthermore states the amiability that the pharaoh possessed (Redford 191). His personality is noted in the Armana letters as being the exact opposite of bellicose (Ross 2). Many anthropologists have noted that the combination of Akhenaten’s personality, and the renderings of him at Armana, could have depicted an Akhenaten with Marafan’s Syndrome (Giuliano 3).
Akhenaten was most known for his change from the older religion to his new monotheistic belief. However, he also touched many other facades, such as art forms. Before the rule of Akhenaten, “art was a religious expression of duties to god and the pharaoh” (Aldred 247). Now, the art appeared more freely and without moral of ethnic constraint, or what many people refer to as non-Frontalism (Giuliano 2). The art of this period, the Armana Period, was also drastically depicted Aten as a sun disk with hands coming off of the sunrays (Redford 170).
The downfall of Akhenaten occurred in 1340 BC, when his 17-year reign collapsed, and he appointed Smenkhare as his follower (Hawkins “Akhenaten’s Life” 2). Smenkhare immediately dismantled Akhenaten’s religion, and returned Egypt to its previous one (Hawkins “Smenkhare” 1). The capital was moved back to Memphis, and many of Akhenaten’s paintings and sculptures were destroyed (Ross 5). The constant destruction could be the reason that Akhenaten’s mummy is still undiscovered, but, Weigal and many other archaeologists believe that he was moved to the controversial Tomb no. 55 (Aldred 195). Following Smenkhare’s rule, the famous Tutankamen took over as pharaoh (Aldred 294). Thus, all that Akhenaten worked to create was destroyed or forgotten over the next two generations.
Akhenaten’s beliefs were very similar to the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity. They both had only one god, and the pharaoh was very similar to the Pope, or the high rabbi, in our modern religions. While Moses was a great prophet who altered the Jews way of life, Akhenaten was looked on at the same level, a man who did not conform to the common standards, but set out to change them (Aldred 241). However, Akhenaten’s religion is not based on faith, but on the personification of the sun disk (Redford 172). Christianity and Judaism are, and therefore, one could argue that they are very distant in ways. However, whatever you may think of Akhenaten’s beliefs or changes, one must always give him the credit to have the strength and courage to uproot Egypt, and change it forever.
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